World Experts Condemn Israel’s Planned Transfer of Bedouin as Potential War Crime and Invoke Authority of International Criminal Court
Jericho, occupied Palestine, 22 January 2015: Leading experts in international law, anthropology and planning have condemned Israel’s threatened forced transfer of thousands of Bedouin in the occupied West Bank as a violation of international humanitarian law and a potential “war crime”. They called for the prosecution of those
Israeli officials who would be responsible. The transfer plan would force Bedouin out of areas ear-marked for Israeli settlements.
Speaking at a symposium of experts in Jericho near Jerusalem, Marco Sassoli, Professor of International Law at the University of Geneva said: "The forcible transfer of a person within occupied territory is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has to stop it. All states have an obligation to ensure respect for that prohibition. Forcible transfer within an occupied territory also constitutes a war crime. Israel and all other State Parties to the Convention must prosecute persons suspected of such a crime. In line with the recent statement of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), considering Palestine as a State party to the Statute of the ICC, she may bring persons suspected of such a crime before the ICC, if the Israeli justice system tolerates forcible transfers."
Israel has announced plans to relocate as many as 12,500 Bedouin to a centralised township near Jericho, called Nweima, one of several sites proposed by the Israeli authorities for the relocation of some 30,000 pastoralist Bedouin people. The plan has sparked international concern for the plight of the Bedouin and condemnation from world leaders.
Dawn Chatty, Professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration at Oxford University, condemned the planned relocation as a form of cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing, arguing that “the Israeli transfer plan in the West Bank threatens the Bedouins’ need for mobility and user rights over extensive but low quality natural resources such as grazing lands. The plan could be seen as cultural genocide of the Bedouin way of life in the West Bank. The sweeping nature of the forced eviction is tantamount to ethnic cleansing.”
The experts called on Israel to cease all measures and plans that lead to the transfer, displacement and further dispossession of the Bedouin; to put in place policies and practices that support the welfare of the Bedouin communities, which is the obligation of an “occupying power”; and to stop the construction and expansion of settlements and the Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Abu Suleiman, speaking on behalf of the Bedouin Protection Committee in the West Bank told the meeting that, “the Bedouin totally reject this plan which will have an unbearable human impact on our families. Women, children, the elderly, some of the most vulnerable people in the Middle East will suffer intolerably. What we are facing is the elimination of the traditional way of life of an entire indigenous population. The transfer plan must be abandoned.”
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Elizabeth Austwick, Eddie Scherler
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Campaigns are being mounted by local and international groups against Israeli plans to expel 12,500 Bedouin-Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem's so-called E1 area. Israel contends the expulsion is to improve Bedouin lives, although Israeli designs to expand settlement in this area are explicit.
The Israeli government released six plans earlier this month to forcibly displace the Bedouin-Palestinian communities in the Jerusalem periphery in favour of settlement expansion which could connect the existing West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim with Jerusalem. Under these plans, Israel would expel the 12,500 Bedouin-Palestinians who live in this area and move them to the existing villages of Fasayil and al Jabal, as well as to the new township of Nweima, planned for north of Jericho.
Around 80% of the Bedouin-Palestinians living in E1 are refugees from the Negev, who were forced out their homes and lands in 1948. This latest plan will once again displace them from their land with the aim of annexing the area into greater Jerusalem.
The E1 master plan, approved by the Israeli government already in 1999, aims to create an urban bloc between Ma’ale Adumin and Jerusalem, connecting the two, whilst dividing the West Bank into two.The planned path of the Separation Wall, which encompasses Ma’ale Adumin and thus the E1 area on the Israeli side of the wall, will further cement the separation of Jerusalem from the West Bank.
The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits forcible transfer of protected persons, regardless of the motive. Israel has justified its plans to ‘relocate’ the Bedouin communities of E1 through the rhetoric of improving Bedouin living conditions by allowing them to live in places with ‘suitable infrastructure’.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the Israeli Civil Administration presents the expulsion plans as appropriate to the “dynamic changes”that Bedouin society is undergoing as it moves from an agricultural society “to a modern society that earns its living by commerce, services, technical trade and more”. The Bedouin-Palestinian communities in question, however, were not consulted about these ‘dynamic changes’ proposed to their way of life.
Abu Suleiman, head of the Jerusalem Bedouins' Community Cooperative, asks “why do they not let us build here if they want to improve our living conditions”. Instead the Israeli civil administration activelyprevents development of these communities, as it does for all Palestinian communities located in Area C. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory documents how 39 homes and livelihood structures have been demolished in E1 this year.
On the other side of the road running through the E1 area, Route 1, lies Ma’ale Adumin, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank, with a population of over 36,000. Whilst a mobile toilet unit of two squre metres is under a demolition order in the Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar, construction over the other side of the road continues unabated.
Abu Suleiman detailed how when objecting to a house demolition the soldiers said to him “it’s not our problem, go live in Ramallah”. “They clearly want to take all of the Bedouin and put them in Area A. The Israeli actions represent a complete disregard for Palestinian life”, he added.
If Israel actually wanted to improve the Bedouins way of life, surely the first step would be to consulat the communities themselves to assess their needs. The AIC spoke with a number of Bedouin community membersfrom the village of Khan Al Ahmar who declared that the plans, in fact, risk destroying the Bedouin way of life, not improving it.
Abu Khamis, from Khan al Ahmar, stated that “the Bedouins have a very different kind of lifestyle, they need land and space for sheep and herding; this new township (Nweima) is designed for lawyers and doctors”. Each family is to be allotted a housing plot of 250 square metres, a small area unsuited for the rearing of livestock
Abu Khamis described how the new town will be surrounded from all sides, in part by military firing zones, settlements and a military checkpoint, which will leave the residents little space for grazing pastures outside of the town. “It will be like a prison” he states.
This expulsion plan is reminiscent of the Prawer Plan, a bill approved by the Israeli Knesset in 2011 to relocate some 40,000 Bedouin-Palestinian citizens of Israel from ‘unrecognised villages’ into townships for their own economic development and integration into Israeli society. This plan was eventually frozen following mass protests within Israel.
However a similar plan was carried out in 1997, in which several West Bank Bedouin communities were transferred to the al Jabal area of the Jerusalem-area town of Abu Dis, where they were allocated small areas of land with permanent housing units. A report conducted by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem concludes that “this transfer resulted in the collapse of their pastoralist economies and irreversible damage to their social fabric and rural way of life.” As Abu Khamis remarked, “if you take a fish out of water it will die, and if you put Bedouins off their land they will fall”